On the importance of critique in fashion blogging

by Franca on 4 January 2010

I’ve been meaning to do this post for ages, what finally spurred me on was the discussion about the new comment policy on the What I Wore blog (thanks to Sal for linking to it). If you haven’t heard about it, Jessica at WiW introduced a new comment policy that basically required all comments to be positive and precluded even constructive criticism. Many of her readers (who had requested the introduction of comments in the first place) were quite up in arms about this. I don’t want to comment on the What i Wore controversy specifically, because I don’t read the blog (I used to occasionally when I first started blogging but its aesthetic and writing style didn’t ultimately speak to me enough), instead I want to talk about the role of critique in fashion blogging more generally.

Basically, I think critique is unequivocally a good thing, and if anything, there should be MORE of it, not less. By critique I mean respectful, thoughtful and, if possible, evidence based criticism or disagreement. Obviously it’s not on to be rude or bitch about people behind their backs.

The part of the blogosphere that I ‘live’ in is so incredibly positive, both in terms of comments and posts. We all like to receive encouragement and it feels nice to give it too. I make time regularly to look through the blogs I follow of the wardrobe remix pool on flickr and fire off little bullets of niceness along the lines of ‘love your dress!’. Dave always laughs at my lack of substance and overuse of exclamation marks, but I know when I receive such comments they always brighten my day, and make blogging worthwhile. Similarly, I like to do posts that go ‘Look at this, it’s amazing!’ and are full of gushing positivity. There’s so much great stuff to share and it feels particularly good when you get the word out a small craft business or artist that aren’t yet well known.

So I’m all for positivity, but I don’t think that should be all there is. And it does sometimes feel like that, like on many blogs criticism isn’t acceptable in any form. I can remember at least two instances where I started writing comments on posts where I disagreed with the blogger, but then decided to discard my reply because I thought it would be taken the wrong way and people might get annoyed/offended. I’d hate to see others self-censor themselves in this way, on my blog anyway.

There was an interesting comment in the WiW thread which suggested that the issue may be a cultural thing in that the blogosphere is US-dominated and Americans are generally so much more positive about everything and may therefore take criticism to heart more, simply because it stands out more. Whereas us Europeans are more cynical and disagree with each other all the time, so we’re used to it and don’t get offended. I think there may be some truth in that.

In terms of outfit posts, what’s wrong with someone going ‘Have you tried wearing this top with a cardigan?’ or ‘I think this would look better with sandals’ or whatever? If someone goes to the effort of masking a suggestion, does it not at least deserve to be considered? Who knows, it may work and lead to great things! Then again it may not, but noone is asking anyone to follow all advice, after all it’s just one person’s opinion and style is subjective and everyone should dress in whatever makes them feel best. But that surely is not a reason to avoid critique altogether!

I think critique is even more important for non-outfit based posts. I put a lot of thinking and effort into my ‘arguments and musing‘ posts, and a well-thought out comment shows me that people have read and engaged with what I had to say, regardless of whether the commenter agrees with me or not. I love to be challenged in my opinions or to read a different perspective on things, it keeps my thinking fresh. Without criticism and challenge we don’t develop and our opinions become lazy. So please, critique away!

Thoughts, anyone?

photo by *Zara.

{ 33 comments }

Amy January 4, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Ok, not to sound like I am just being positive, but really I totally agree with you. I don't think there is anything wrong with constructive critism…if done respectfully. I would much rather someone tell me if they think my top would look better this way or my skirt that way. I sometimes (ok, alot of times), can't think of new ways to wear my clothes, so if another else can, please bring it on. I, of course, love reading, "your outfit looks great"; but if it doesn't, let me know so I dont wear it that way again. LOL

And btw, nothing wrong with over use of exclamation points- that is my trademark too. :)

xoxo
Amy

http://thebargainhunterextraordinaire.blogspot.com
Great post!

Sal January 4, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I agree, Franca. For me, blogging is all about the dialogue. And although truly negative comments hurt, receiving constructive criticism and reading opposing opinions are what make posting interesting to me. I WANT to hear what my readers think. About everything.

I do, however, believe that a blog where someone posts outfits and eye-candy exclusively can be a comment-free-zone. It’s not something I’d ever want for myself, but I get it. I don’t think there’s one "right" way to blog, so I don’t think just posting outfit shots sans comments is wrong or bad or exclusionary or snobby. It’s just a different way to run the ship. Plus when a blog is 100% visual inspiration, the comments tend to mostly be in the, "Oooh, pretty!" vein anyway, as you pointed out.

La Historiadora de Moda January 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I actually would love to see more constructive criticism on my blog. I've only had one or two negative comments, and they weren't even particularly negative. I would have no problem with someone saying that they think a dress that I wore would look better with heeled boots than loafers or spectator pumps instead of Mary Janes. My biggest concern is that the anonymity of the interwebs could allow criticism to get nasty or creepy, and I do think we bloggers have to draw the line somewhere.

On a somewhat related note, I recently switched to moderating the comments on my blog not because of critical comments but because of creepy anonymous comments about my legs and tights. Perhaps I'm overly sensitive, but I'm an academic, and I don't want those kinds of comments associated with me even though I blog under a pen name.

Oranges And Apples January 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Amy: thanks!!!! :-)

Sal: yes, I agree, no comments is appropriate sometimes – which is I think what WiW was originally. But if you're going to allow people to comment, then you have to accept that some may not be 100% positive.

La Historadoria: I kind of feel the same, I wouldn't mind a bit of criticism! I guess people don't like to come out with suggestsions unless they are specifically requested. I have always moderated my comments and I don't think you're being overly senstive at all! If something is rude or creepy, it shouldn't get anywhere near being published!

nurmisur January 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm

For me the good part about blogging has been the socializing trought it. For me it feels much better when you can exchange ideas like you do with your friends about your outfits or other kind of posts you make.
Positive 'criticism ' is wht makes your grow.
But then again, I'm european ;)

Violet Folklore January 4, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Hmm, so glad I just happened to stumble across your blog today (from Missa's) because I've been thinking a lot about this! Someone posted on my blog recently that the pictures could be better and all I could say was… I agree! Since I am the model it did make me cringe a little, but it's true and I know it.
I remember Amber from Painfully Hip got a comment about her outfits being not-so-great once and she totally used that to inspire her to make them better and blogged all about it. I really admired that.
There is a very popular vintage/fashion blogger who frequently posts beautiful pictures of herself in gorgeous settings in completely boring, mundane, repetitive outfits. I always want to say something but it's a scary thing to do and, honestly, I don't think I'll ever do it. She's popular enough that she obviously can get away with doing the minimum at this point.
Ah, anyway, thanks for giving me something to think about girl :-)

~Amber

Veronica Darling... January 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Hmmm, good thoughts there love. I tend to respond to questions or ponderings (especially if there's sewing questions, I love commenting about what I would do in the sewing room) but for fash photos and outfit photos, if it's not my speed I either don't comment, or focus on what I like in the outfit.

Everyone's an individual with their style and I really don't want my comments to be taken the wrong way. And since you can't see my earnest little face when I type this, I feel sometimes my tone would be misinterpreted as tactless etc. However! You inviting this constructive feedback means that your loyal readers will feel more comfortable and overall you're building a great community for this critique.

Good luck back at work!

Maggie January 4, 2010 at 9:10 pm

I think all artists, and dressing well is an art, should be able to handle constructive criticism. I tend to shy away from making negative comments myself, because god knows I've had outfit mishaps.

Julia January 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Love your insight here. I'm perennially fascinated by comments, both positive and negative, in the blogging forum. I actually did two posts on Sea of Shoes and Jane's removal of her comment forum, and both Jane and her mother began a dialogue with me. It was quite fascinating and actually a little alarming.

I don't read What I Wore, and I'm uncertain about how I feel about comments in general. It seems to be an incredibly new part of this increbily new medium (blogging), and academically, it's all very fascinating. If you'd like to check out my post it's at: http://songoftheexile.blogspot.com/2009/12/sea-of-shoes-i-dont-hate-you-cause-your.html

jesse.anne.o January 5, 2010 at 12:07 am

Absolutely agree. Constructive being the key word. I perceive it as passive/aggressive when someone takes a step forward as if to encourage dialogue but then edits it or withdraws when it doesn't go how they think it might.

jesse.anne.o January 5, 2010 at 12:12 am
Lemondrop Marie January 5, 2010 at 3:03 am

Well thought out comments are always appreciated by me, so if the criticism is constructive and the person is honestly trying to be helpful I think I can take it!
I also feel my corner of the blogosphere is full of positives, exclamation marks, and support. Thanks for a thought provoking post.
Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

Clare January 5, 2010 at 3:20 am

I'm so glad you brought this up. It's been something that's been on my mind since Jessica's WIW comment discussion started. I understand both sides, I guess. On the one hand, blogs are personal spaces, made and moderated by an owner, and that person has the right to reject whatever comments that they don't want to deal with. I understand that people have bad days, or low self esteem, or just "don't want to hear it", and thus moderate their more negative comments. It makes sense.

To me, however, these blogs are public places. We choose to share our outfits, our thoughts, and parts of our lives with our readers. The best blogs are ones that incite discussion, whether entirely positive or sprinkled with a bit of negativity. I love all the compliments I get in my posts, but sometimes a few "I would have worn that like this…" comments would be great! Constructive criticism creates the beautiful sense of community that this blogging world has.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. I'm so glad you brought this up. Great post!

Bug January 5, 2010 at 3:27 am

Agree. The thing about blogs is that its a trade off. You get the opportunity to put yourself out there and have to expect to get the negative with the positive. I get negative comments at times and I just blow them off. I enjoy constructive criticism though I even ask for it at times.

Hope you have a nice new years!

Oranges And Apples January 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Thank you all for your comments, I am really glad to hear that others feel the same and actually welcome constructive criticism!

Retro Chick January 5, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I think negative comments are an entirely different thing from constructive criticism.

Telling someone they look fat or you hate their outfit is just plain rude. Wondering wether an outfit would look better with a thinner belt or higher heels is another thing altogether.

Sometimes when you get a lot of "Great dress!" type comments I think you must wonder wether anyone is engaging with your blog or just commenting for the sake of it?

Andi B. Goode January 6, 2010 at 10:17 am

I do agree that critique is just as important as a positive comment and that, the act of posting one's outfit on the 'net for all to see, is, I suppose, kind of opening up that kind of discussion. On the other hand, I do live by the belief that advice should not be handed out unless it is asked for. I think it's a fine line, because, as I said, the mere act of posting the outfit could be seen as an open invitation for advice or critique…on the other hand, many people may not be expecting it at all.
I know someone once made a suggestion about an outfit to me and I was a bit uncomfortable about it because I know that I almost always will only photograph an outfit if I'm sure it's exactly the way I want it to be – I'm probably going to sound incredibly arrogant but I have a vision of how I want to look and I'm not sure many others understand it 100%. I'm not offended by suggestions but I probably wouldn't pay any attention to them (but I rarely do in real life, even when I do ask for them).
I sound like such a snob. =\
-Andi x
PS However, if I did ask for advice, I would hope to get some! I've asked for advice in other ways online, before, and am often ignored, perhaps because people don't want to offend me (but I'm more offended when my questions go unanswered!)

Chelsea January 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I agree that critique is important, and I think there is a point to the whole US dominated, overly positive blogsphere, but I think another problem with critiquing online is that one is afraid of sounding too negative when it isn't meant that way at all. I have deleted comments before because on rereading I find it harsher than I meant, or that is could be interpreted a different way. I hate to use smiley face emoticons but sometimes I feel I have to just to make sure that the comment receiver knows I don't mean to be bitchy. It is totally different telling a friend in person that you think the dress they are wearing makes their breasts look squished or that the color isn't quite right for them. There is tone and rhythm to speech that cannot be translated to the typed word.
I think what we really need more of is fellow bloggers to ask for the critique. Ask, in writing, "what do you think of this: color/style/cut/pattern/etc." Maybe if the criticism was obviously welcome we wouldn't be so afraid to give it. But how do we make criticism welcome without posting a banner saying such?
Sorry if I was a bit rambley and repetitive, I just had so many thoughts on the topic!

elle s'ennuie January 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

It also somewhat depends on the style of delivery… "Have you thought of wearing this dress with a cardigan? I think it might look really good styled that way" is very different from "Have you thought of wearing this dress with a cardigan? It'd make you look slimmer"… :)

Shopgirl January 7, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Love such a lively debate. I think it is important that any criticism be constructive and not negative.

I love getting positive comments but would be happy to get comments with suggestinos on outfit choices or disagreeing with my thoughts on a trend or whatever.

Great post!!

Leia January 7, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Constructive, kind critique is fine, I think, but there's a fine line between critique and negativity. I don't mind if someone has a different opinion or different tastes – that's what makes the world interesting! But saying something like, "You don't look good in pink. Don't wear it" is not really helpful or kind. There's always a way to phrase things in a better way, too!

Ashe Mischief January 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm

There are amazing comments in here, and your points are well made too. It's ridiculous to me that someone would restrict their comments to positive ones only. To a certain degree, I could understand, because we're not putting so much work and energy in to posts to have people belittle or break them down. On the other hand, and you touch on it greatly, is the idea of constructive criticism. It's invaluable, it's worthwhile, and it's a shame to see that someone doesn't believe that or would prohibit it.

To each their own, but like you, I find that's just another reason not to read What I Wore Today.

Audi January 8, 2010 at 1:19 am

Such a good discussion here. I was really annoyed with WIW's mandate of positivity, because she did seem to ban even constructive criticism as well. I don't blog because I consider myself some sort of an expert, I do so to open up a discussion about style and perhaps give, as well as get, ideas and input.

I don't think that Europeans are disagreeable; I find them to be straightforward and honest in the best possible way. It's true that many Americans aren't receptive to that sort of frankness, but really they just need to learn not to be so fragile. A little criticism is good for anyone, and with my blog I always assume that people only offer it out in the spirit of honesty and helpfulness — if they hated me, why are they reading the blog in the first place, right?

Maven January 8, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I just surfed over here for the first time (though I "know" you from flickr and the bygone days when I used to do W_R posts)–so hi! I am heartened by this discussion though I'm not sure I have anything to add to it legitimately, since for the most part fashion blogs don't appeal to me. WIW is a blog that I've checked occasionally, since I also "knew" Jessica from flickr, and it's been interesting to see its evolution from a hobby into a business. The discussion on the comments policy was interesting, too, and I completely agree with the folks in that discussion who made the distinction between personal blogs and commercial blogs. On a personal blog you are more than welcome to moderate, delete obnoxious comments, close comments, etc, but I do feel that once a blog has become a commercial enterprise you can't be as dictatorial. If your posts inspire discussion that gets you caught in the crossfire once in awhile, that's the price of doing business, right? And I must admit that while I love the positive vibe on places like W_R, the endless gush of "OMG you're soooo awesome" on blogs such as WIW gets tiresome to me, and I anonymously slink off to read something else. The most interesting blogs, to me, always invite some kind of critique, hopefully social and cultural. Though I like a good outfit as much as anyone, I've generally been disappointed with the way fashion blogs refuse to engage with tough issues like consumer culture, third world labor, gender, body expectations, and so on. Being a thin-skinned American (haha, so true), I don't often participate in the fray, but I like seeing what unfolds, and I like getting inspired.

My verification word is Pippi! How appropriate–such a fashion icon.

Elz January 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I totally agree about constructive criticism; it's almost a bigger compliment, in my mind, then just saying something positive, because it takes more thought.
The art of giving and accepting constructive criticism is a skill that in many ways a majority of the online art community has yet to pick up on, not just fashion bloggers. Thanks for saying something!

anita January 10, 2010 at 3:09 am

I agree partialy and, although it may be difficult to explain in English, I will try to show what I mean.
I think it depends on what you want your blog to be. I mean I don't ask for opinions about my outfits to decide what to wear or something, but just try to show what I ALREADY like. Hence I don't like comments of unknown readers (the first comment or so) saying 'I don't like that bag'. It could sound rude but I feel like answering 'Has anybody asked you?'.
Of course if a friend (blogger friend, I mean) tells me 'Ana, why don't you try to wear that skirt with a less formal top?' I will find it great, but that's obvious!!!
What I don't understand is a polite opinion saying 'I don't like it'. Whenever I don't like it, I just don't comment.
Hope you understand what I mean… ????
:)

Oranges And Apples January 10, 2010 at 9:33 am

Thank you all for your commens! Such a good discussion, and lots of us are disagreeing with each other in a respectful way! ha!

Retro Chick, elle s'enuie, shop girl, Leia- YES, there clearly is a difference between constructive criticism and just being neagative for the sake of it – especially when it's about the bloggers body. I just think that a lot of the time, the distinction isn't recognised and any form of not-complete-agreement is seen as this awful rude thing.

Anita and Andi – I do see what you mean – you're not looking for suggestions for making stuff better, you're posting because you're happy with your outfits. But I just think its good to keep an open mind and at least consider suggestions. Like I say, you can always ignore them if they don't work for you

Retro Chick and Elz – you're right, constructive feedback requires much more effort and engagement. Although like I said, I do like the short, 'great dress!' type comments, both to give and receive.

Maven – hi, not 'seen' you in ages! The personal blog/business thing is really interesting as more and more blogs go commercial!

Jed January 12, 2010 at 3:28 am

I think that any kind of criticism is alright as long as you try not to take it personally. I mean, negative criticism can really affect you – your mood, even your confidence.

Asking or requiring your viewers to only post positive comments is like telling them what to do, what to think and ultimately asking them to look elsewhere because you simply can't take it.

I'd rather get 5 mixture of constructive and negative feedback rather than get 1 extremely flattering comment which actually has only 1 purpose – to bargain for a favor back.

I think negative criticism can be regarded as a challenge. I'm no good when it comes to grammar, and more often than not, I realize my mistake after re-reading my post for the nth time, when it's already late and people have seen my blooper already. At the start, it hurts, because I do everything – from web design to graphics to writing the articles. But the thing is, a critique can actually make you and your blog grow.

Kasmira January 14, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Hello.

First of all, I should be reading this blog! I'm adding you to my Google Reader.

Second, as a blogger, I did disable anonymous comments because of what I call "drive bys." People would stop by my blog (usually from some negative thread on a message board), tell me I'm ugly/old/fat/boring/shallow and then never return. I found that forcing people to have some sort of "identity" when posting reduced the name-calling.

As a reader, I carefully phrase any constructive criticism. Honestly, the thing I offer the most advice on is the photography. I can't stand dimly lit, cellphone, in-the-mirror shots. Gah! But I guess that's my special pet peeve. When it comes to outfits, I always include a positive with the constructive: "Great find! Have you thought about shortening the skirt to show off your great legs?" If I got a comment like that, I wouldn't be hurt, so I'm hoping others also take it well.

emily January 15, 2010 at 2:02 am

congratulations! this post is officially my first blog response comment EVER. but well, i feel like wiw has been unfairly maligned in the fashion blog world, so here goes.

the posts on other blogs seem to all be about how good constructive criticism is. i feel like that is a subtle way of confusing
"please don't put negative comments on my blog"
with
"please don't put negative comments on any blog, ever, or ever give anyone constructive criticism"

those two things are so very different

everyone in the blogging world (i assume, since i don't blog) has different reasons for blogging. some people are looking for fashion pointers more than others. and that *should* be ok in my opinion. she didn't say you should never constructively criticize, she just said please don't do it here, on my blog.

sigh. just my two cents.

it's just that i was blown away by how annoyed people were at a request that seemed quite benign to me

WendyB January 15, 2010 at 6:50 am

I rarely see truly constructive criticism in comments. Usually snarky things from anons.

gina January 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Interesting post and comments. As a blog reader, I generally only comment on outfits or looks that I like, or in response to questions or requests for advice that bloggers put in their posts.

To me, style is about personal taste. If someone is wearing something a particular way, I assume it's b/c they like it that way, even if I'd wear it differently. If they want to try it a different way, they can take inspiration from me or other bloggers, which many bloggers do.

I seek to evolve and develop my style by taking inspiration from others' ideas shown to me in their pictures, and not so much from receiving constructive written feedback on my own outfits. Since that's my preference as a blogger, I tend to behave that way towards others. I want to see pictures of other bloggers outfits, so in return, I post pictures of my outfits. I'm not particularly interested in constructive feedback on outfits I've already worn, so I don't give it to others.

Of course, not everyone has the same approach as me, and you can never know exactly what someone else's philosophy of blog-commenting is, so I try to keep that in mind when reviewing comments I've received.

Musing Around January 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I'm late to finding this post, but think this topic is very important. I didn't agree with Jessica's comment censoring policy because I thought it could create an insincere audience. I mean, how many people just post comments so they can leave their own blog url? I'd like to receive more constructive criticism, and while this will take a good degree of maturity, I think it can create a creative and sharing community. -Rose

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